The curious case of the Georgia secondary

In 2013, the Georgia secondary ranked ninth in the SEC in passing yardage allowed. Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story and in this case those stats might even have made the Bulldogs secondary sound better than it was. In fairness, the secondary for Georgia was extremely young in 2013 and we saw this from the very beginning of the season as the Bulldogs started two true freshmen (Tray Matthews and Brendan Langley) in the secondary against the passing attack of the Clemson Tigers in week one.

Under the guidance of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and secondary coach Scott Lakatos, the secondary was a sore spot for Georgia all season long and many times looked lost and out of position or just made bad decisions (see also: The Prayer at Jordan Hare). This off-season, Bobby Petrino made Todd Grantham an offer that he couldn’t refuse and that breathed new life in the Georgia defense.

Georgia and Mark Richt landed Jeremy Pruitt, fresh off of a National Championship win as a defensive coordinator at Florida State, and that left Dawgs fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation of what Pruitt might do with the Georgia defense. Could he take all of the young talent in the secondary and do what Grantham could not?

Then the members of the Georgia secondary started to dwindle.

First it was rising junior Josh Harvey-Clemons. At times, Clemons looked like one of the best players on the field for the Georgia defense but at other times looked lost (see also: yeah, that Auburn play again). Clemons couldn’t keep his head on straight and he was dismissed in February.

Then it was rising sophomore Shaq Wiggins. Wiggins started eight games as a freshman and showed sparks (INT return for TD vs Vandy) of being a play-maker. Shaq had a tough time fitting in with Pruitt’s new system this spring, saw himself sliding down the depth chart and made a surprisingly (at least in this day and age of college football) amicable split with Georgia.

The latest departure from the defense is Brendan Langley. Yes, the same Langley that started against Clemson as a true freshman and then disappeared into the ether for the better part of the remainder of the season. Langley is not leaving the program, but he’s headed over to offense to play wide receiver.

The big question for Georgia this off-season will be…when all is said and done, how will the secondary come together?

The top returnees for the Dawgs are senior Damian Swann (who struggled mightily in 2013), Tray Matthews (who struggled to stay healthy), Corey Moore (who looked confused on a regular basis in 2013), junior Sheldon Dawson (who at times I thought had applied for witness relocation in 2013) and sophomore Quincy Mauger (who got increased playing time as the year went on and showed improvement).

The X-factors for Georgia will be JJ Green (transferring over from offense after a successful freshman campaign as a running back), Reggie Wilkerson (a red-shirt freshman who was having a great camp in 2013 before an injury ended his season) and Aaron Davis (a walk-on who came out of nowhere this spring after having his high school career sidetracked by injury).

Despite the exodus of talent at this position, Georgia still has talent in their defensive backfield and one of the most interesting things to watch in the SEC this season will be seeing what Jeremy Pruitt can get out of that talent.

Georgia’s offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, has a lot of confidence in Pruitt and the defense and he had this to say about them….

I’m gonna tell you this about Jeremy Pruitt: He’s a great football coach in the fundamentals that are gonna make the difference in making a play and not making a play…..Obviously sometimes you see a guy moving to offense, you see a guy transferring, you wonder: What are we gonna do?

But I heard him talking to a guy the other night: ‘We’re gonna get the five or six that are gonna do it our way, and the way I want it done, and we’re gonna be a hell of a defense. And that came out of his mouth. And I feel confident he’s gonna get it done and get those guys ready to play

For Georgia, the secondary could very well define their season but the secondary doesn’t take the field alone and Georgia finished the 2013 season second in the SEC with 33 sacks (27 of which return this year) and return some key talents in the front seven (losing only Garrison Smith). The Bulldogs must improve a lot of things on defense this season but with Pruitt leading the cause, Georgia fans have to feel a mix of optimism, curiosity and anxiousness which is better than that Pepto feeling they had with Grantham leading the charge.

Can Tray Matthews stay healthy? How will JJ Green adapt to defense? Will Damian Swann return to form? Who will be the right fit for Pruitt’s style of play?

All these questions are swarming around Athens and they will continue until Georgia once again lines up against the Clemson Tigers in week one and we get to see the start of the latest era of the Georgia defense.

Will it be on the right track to help them get back to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game?

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.